Baker praises humility, self-sacrifice at Roxbury church
Parishioners at Roxbury’s Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church received spiritual guidance from an unexpected figure on Sunday: Governor Charlie Baker.
Baker joined a congregation of about 60 for the morning service and took the pulpit to read a favorite piece of Scripture from Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians and share personal reflections on the value of humility and service to others.
The message surprised some parishioners, who had expected a secular speech.
“It was nice, though. . . . It was very heartfelt, and I think the members felt it,” said Ella Jones, 77, of the South End, who has attended the church for about 30 years.
It’s an election year, and Baker, a Republican, is facing a primary challenge from Scott Lively, a conservative, antigay Springfield pastor. Two Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination: Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie.
The governor’s visit to the church in the heart of Boston’s African-American community wasn’t a campaign stop, though, but a favor to a friend, according to the Rev. Miniard Culpepper.
Culpepper said that he had invited Baker to the church last month for a celebration of his 21 years as pastor at Pleasant Hill.
“He didn’t make it, but he promised me he would come shortly thereafter,” Culpepper said.
Baker has visited the church for meetings on community issues, Culpepper added. But on Sunday, when parishioner Donella Abbott welcomed visitors to the service, Baker stood and introduced himself like any first-timer.
Parishioners welcomed Baker warmly and wished him success, gathering later to surround him in a prayer circle. Baker, who is 6-foot-6, bowed his head and leaned into the crowd as praying members rested their hands on his shoulders.
In addressing the congregation, Baker spoke of the vanity and ego that can accompany political power.
“Humility is about open minds, open hearts, and a capacity to listen and learn and grow,” Baker said. “And in this day and age, with social media, and anonymous outrage, and all the rest, we have a heck of a lot less listening, learning, and growing than we need, to be truly great.”
His message bore similarities to some criticisms of President Trump, a fellow Republican from whom Baker distanced himself early in the 2016 presidential primary and whose policies he has sometimes criticized. Last month he referred to the Trump administration’s since-abandoned policy of separating immigrant children from their parents as “cruel and inhumane.”
The governor never mentioned Trump by name, and he did not respond to a reporter’s question as he left the church. A spokeswoman declined to comment.
Culpepper said he didn’t believe Baker intended to single out the president for criticism.
“I think he was talking about public servants in general,” he said.
Culpepper said Baker’s visit was meant to help strengthen the connections within the community the church serves.
“We don’t agree on everything,” he said, “but a lot of our values are similar.”